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Portland Timbers 2019 MLS Preview

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MLS: Portland Timbers at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season could hardly have started off worse for the Portland Timbers. But by the end, the team had set club record for consecutive wins, they snapped the Even Year Curse and rode some big time performances all the way to the MLS Cup Final.

How did they finish in 2018?

15–9–10; 5th in the West. Lost to Atlanta United in the MLS Cup final.

What’s new in 2019?

The Providence Park renovation will be completed in June, but aside from home aesthetics, the biggest difference between this year’s squad and the seasons preceding it may be behind the scenes with the promotion of Ned Grabavoy to technical director.

In this role, the 13-year-MLS veteran Grabavoy will manage scouting, identification and evaluation of players, oversee pathways from the academy to T2 and the first team. He will also work with first-team technical staff and develop key markets for recruiting players.

Who’s out?

Defender Liam Ridgewell is now at Hull City; Alvas Powell joined Fanendo Adi with FC Cincinnati; Lawrence Olum (option declined); Jake Gleeson, Roy Miller, Jack Barmby (out of contract)

Who’s in?

In from T2 are Marvin Loria (6 goals, 8 assists for T2 last year) and Renzo Zambrano (3 goals, 4 assists)

Slovenian goalkeeper Aljaž Ivačič is a transfer in from NK Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenian PrvaLiga

Defender Jorge Moreira (on loan with a purchase option) from Superliga Argentina side River Plate. Overcoming a pretty serious injury and the absence of regular playing time, Moreira will be challenging Zarek Valentin for the starting right back position.

What’s the new jersey?

Anything new at your existing stadium this year?

The privately financed, $75 million Providence Park renovation will soon be completed. In total, the renovation will add somewhere in the ballpark of 4,000 new seats in four new levels, nearly vertically stacking in the east side of Providence Park. It will be housed underneath a 93-foot high covered structure.

Projected starting XI

4-2-3-1: Attinella; Moreira, Dielna, Mabiala, Villafana; Chara, Guzman; Polo, Valeri, Blanco; Ebobisse

Expectations for 2019?

Portland will conclude the season with 11 of their final 12 matches at home. The last several MLS clubs who have finished a campaign with that sort of home-stand (D.C. United being the most recent) have all reached the postseason. Portland is expected to continue that trend in 2019, especially since the team is returning roughly the same core.

Big rumor this offseason

According to Timbers GM/President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson, the Timbers had two major areas of focus in the offseason: right back and striker.

In Jorge Moreira, Wilkinson believes he has the found a right back who can push more into the final third, providing width on the right.

“Jorge [Moreria] is an experienced player who has played at the highest level in South America and internationally, and his addition further strengthens our defensive group,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said in a press release. “As a right back, he has shown to be balanced defensively and comfortable with the ball and going forward, and his addition will create an additional level of competition to our club this season.”

The Timbers were linked to, at least, two strikers but despite Wilkinson’s remarks that this striker would be, “the biggest investment we’ve made in a player since the start of the Timbers,” the Timbers were unable to come to terms with any of them.

Who is THE player to watch on your team, and why?

Diego Valeri. The Maestro is only a year removed from a brilliant MVP campaign and is still the vital cog that makes Portland go. But key in too much on Valeri and you’ll incur the wrath of Sebastian Blanco.

Nicknamed “Chucky” after the doll from the horror movie Child’s Play, Blanco’s diminutive but lethal daggers stunned Seattle Sounders with this clutch goal in the second leg of their playoff series:

Blanco wasn’t through breaking the hearts of opposing fans though. The look of disbelief on teammate Valeri’s face gets me every time.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

Health and the effects of the Road Trip ‘19 are the obvious concerns here. Portland has probably never been in good a shape from a salary cap/financial flexibility point of view. Financial health is good. Developing a system of young and cheap talent is good. But it’s the high spenders that tend to the ones lifting the trophies at the end of the season.

Consider:

  1. For the first time since 2014, Portland will open the season without all three designated player (DP) slots occupied
  2. Deals for Alvas Powell and selling an International Slot to D.C. United have allowed the club to acquire even more allocation money. In addition to the allocation monies Portland received in separate deals for Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe.
  3. Meanwhile, Portland has cleared somewhere in the range of $1.5 million of player salary since the final kick of 2018.

$100,000 of which were used when the Timbers acquired the MLS rights to defender Claude Dielna, who Gavin Wilkinson said was on a one-year deal. Further limiting the players at Savarese’s disposal, the Timbers plan to keep four goalkeepers, instead of the usual three, on the roster. Though it should be noted the recently acquired Aljaz Ivacic, a transfer from Olimpija Ljubljana of the Slovenian league, will be out until mid-to-late April following surgery to repair a left tibial stress fracture and Kendall McIntosh is also injured.

How much will this roster change after the season starts?

It’s easy to see a scenario where Portland is very active once the Summer Transfer Window opens in July.

Will this team care about U.S. Open Cup?

Yes. Winning a U.S. Open is a priority for the club. It would be nice to open the 4th round against a non-MLS club for a change. Just saying.

Who’s the player fans will learn to love?

I’m looking forward to a nice year from Andy Polo. World Cup duty and adjustment to a new league limited Andy Polo’s initial contributions to the point where Polo didn’t have a goal or an assist until late August. But Polo was clearly talented enough to earn five starts in the Timbers six postseason matches.

On December 10, the club that they would be purchasing his contract outright from Morelia. If Polo’s performance of the preseason–a goal and two assists against Real Salt Lake–are any indication, the 24-year-old Timber is primed for a fun run in 2019.